Spatchcock Chicken: The Best Way to Prepare a Whole Chicken!
Knowing how to spatchcock a chicken is one of the absolute best kitchen skills you can learn. I’ve been a fan of spatchcocking for years, ever since a spatchcock turkey saved the first-ever Thanksgiving dinner that Chris & I hosted together. This Thanksgiving experience taught me just how wonderful a technique spatchcocking poultry is – I haven’t roasted a whole turkey any other way since, & now I also cook spatchcock chicken recipes all year round!
With a spatchcock chicken (aka butterfly chicken), the bird lays flat as it cooks resulting in a more evenly cooked, extra-juicy (never dry) chicken in way less time. Seriously amazing!
Plus, it’s a versatile skill to add to your kitchen arsenal. You can cook a spatchcock chicken by roasting it, smoking it, or grilling it. Serve it with a side of potatoes & a fresh green salad for the best classic dinner or use spatchcock chicken as the main protein in your favorite tacos, bowls, or salads. You can even use it as a simple sub in any recipe where you’d use rotisserie chicken for ease. You’ll never run out of options for what to do with a spatchcock chicken!
Read on for a step-by-step overview of How to Spatchcock a Chicken (with photos to help guide you along the way!), or jump straight to the recipe card & get spatchcocking! ♡
First Thing’s First, What is Spatchcock Chicken (Butterfly Chicken)?
Spatchcock is a super simple yet game-changing technique for butchering poultry like turkey & chicken in which the backbone of the bird is removed, allowing it to lay completely flat as it cooks. This one simple move makes such a big difference in the cook time & juiciness of your chicken!
You may also know of spatchcocking as “butterflying” (i.e. a spatchcock chicken is the same as a butterfly chicken). No matter what you call it, the benefits are the same!
Ok, but WHY Spatchcock Chicken?
GREAT question! It may sound like a bit of extra work but learning how to butterfly a chicken is SO worth it. That’s because a flat chicken is a really, really good thing!
Learning how to spatchcock a chicken is super beneficial for two main reasons:
- A larger surface area leads to a much faster cooking time. A spatchcock chicken that sits flatter as it roasts has a much larger surface area with uniform thickness, reducing the cooking time by A LOT. A roasted spatchcock chicken recipe takes about 1 hour to cook while a whole roasted chicken could take up to 90 minutes!
- A spatchcock chicken cooks evenly & never dries out. In a traditional whole roasted chicken, the legs take longer to cook because they are hidden away underneath the chicken breasts. Meanwhile, the breasts are disproportionately exposed to the heat source & keep cooking & cooking while you wait for the legs to be done. This is exactly why roasted chicken breasts can be super dry & overcooked – the chicken roasts unevenly! Because it lies flat as it roasts, a butterfly chicken’s white meat & dark meat cooks at a much more similar rate. The result? Evenly juicy chicken breasts & thighs – every single time.
What You Need to Spatchcock a Chicken at Home
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
Despite its slightly intimidating name, learning how to spatchcock a chicken is a pretty simple process! You just need a whole chicken & a couple of other handy tools:
- Whole chicken – Of course! If you’re using a frozen chicken, be sure to give it time to thaw completely before trying to butterfly it.
- Very sharp kitchen shears – These are the kitchen shears I use & absolutely swear by! They need to be nice & sharp to make snipping out the chicken’s backbone super easy.
- Sharp chef’s knife – Having a super sharp knife makes it that much easier to butterfly your chicken effortlessly. This one is my favorite!
- Large plastic cutting board – Preparing poultry on a plastic cutting board (as opposed to a wooden cutting board) helps maintain a clean surface & prevent cross-contamination.
- Rolling pin – My secret to easily preparing a spatchcock chicken! You’ll see why in a sec. 😉
How to Spatchcock a Chicken (with Step-By-Step Photos!)
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Prep. Before you begin spatchcocking, prep your chicken in just a few simple steps…
- Pat the chicken dry. Use paper towel to pat the surface of the chicken as dry as possible. Do not rinse your chicken – with modern farming practices, rinsing isn’t necessary & is likely to promote cross-contamination in your workspace.
- Remove the neck from the cavity, if present, but don’t throw it away! Save it for the next time you make homemade chicken broth – it’s full of rich flavor!
- Place the chicken on your cutting board, breast side down. Make sure your large plastic cutting board is on a stable, sturdy surface to prevent any slips as you prepare the spatchcock chicken.
Snip out the backbone. With the chicken laying breast side down on the cutting board, you’ll have easy access to its backbone. Use very sharp kitchen shears to carefully snip along each side of the chicken’s backbone until it’s completely detached. You can also use a sharp knife to do this, but I find I have much more control using kitchen shears.
Crack the chest bone. Locate the top of the chicken’s breastplate, a solid piece of bone located directly behind the chicken breasts. Take the heel of a chef’s knife (the sturdy bottom part of the blade near the handle) & center it on the top of the breastplate. Press down on the knife, carefully yet firmly, until it cracks. Spatchcock tip! ⇢ If you have a hard time cracking the chest bone using just the knife, you can tap a rolling pin against the spine of the knife, wedging it into the bone until you hear it crack.
Spatchcock (butterfly) the chicken. Flip the chicken over so the breast side is facing up. If needed, press your hands on the chest bone & use your body weight to lean into the chest plate, cracking the bone all the way through. This last step ensures that the spatchcock chicken is super, super flat.
Having Trouble? Try This!
No worries – some chickens are easier to flatten than others! If you have difficulty cracking the chest plate of the chicken, flip the bird back over so you can see the inner chicken cavity. Run the tip of your knife over the chest bone, making score marks across the bone, which will help ease up any resistance. Flip it back over, breast side facing up, & try pressing down on the center of its chest again – that should be a bit easier to work with!
Cooking & Serving Spatchcock Chicken – Tips & Suggestions
The best thing about learning how to spatchcock chicken is its versatility – there are a ton of different ways to prepare a butterfly chicken!
- The most classic way is to roast it in the oven & serve it with your favorite sides. This Lemon Herb Roasted Spatchcock Chicken Over Potatoes recipe is my favorite for a Sunday dinner with my family or as meal prep to use throughout the week.
- One of my other favorite ways to prepare spatchcock chicken is to grill it! Try this Chili-Lime Grilled Spatchcock Chicken recipe – it’s zesty, perfectly juicy, beautifully charred, & it’s the perfect option for taco night during the warm months.
- Or try this Tuscan-Style Grilled Spatchcock Chicken – it’s loaded with bright lemons & fresh herb flavors, the perfect summer dinner!
Once you find the spatchcock chicken recipe you love most, there are tons of different ways to serve it! A few ideas to get you started:
- Add a side of Loaded Au Gratin Potatoes or Creamy Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes plus a green salad with All-Purpose Vinaigrette.
- Use the chicken as an easy add-on to complete other dishes like tacos, chicken burritos, grain bowls, fresh salads, or sandwiches.
- Easily substitute spatchcock chicken into any recipe where you’d typically use shredded rotisserie chicken! This is a great shortcut for recipes like Springtime Chicken & Dumplings, Green Chicken Enchiladas, Buffalo Chicken Sliders, or Creamy White Chicken Chili.
I can’t wait for you to learn How to Spatchcock a Chicken! It’s an awesome technique that can be used in a ton of different recipes, resulting in perfectly juicy chicken every time – I think you’ll be obsessed! If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!
Interested in More Techniques & How-Tos? Check out our favorite in-depth guides & tutorials to learn How to Cook Pasta Perfectly, How to Grill Pizza, The Perfect Cast Iron Steak, or How to Sear Scallops at Home next. ♡ Happy cooking!Print
Learning how to spatchcock a chicken is an absolute game-changing kitchen skill! A spatchcock chicken cooks super evenly, stays perfectly juicy (never dry!), & only takes an extra 10 minutes to prep.
It may seem intimidating, but it’s so much simpler than it sounds. This step-by-step guide to spatchcock chicken (aka butterfly chicken) will teach you how to prepare a perfectly cooked whole chicken, whether you roast it, smoke it, or grill it. Be sure to check the Recipe Notes, below, for a few of our favorite spatchcock chicken recipes!
- 1 (one) 4-pound whole chicken
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- large plastic cutting board
- sharp kitchen shears
- sharp chef’s knife
- rolling pin
- Chicken prep: Remove the chicken from its packaging. There is no need to rinse your chicken (rinsing promotes cross-contamination). Instead, simply use paper towel to pat the surface of the chicken as dry as possible. If present, remove the neck from the cavity. Discard, or set aside for the next time you make chicken broth. Transfer the chicken to a large plastic cutting board atop a stable, sturdy surface. Place the chicken breast side facing down.
- Remove the back bone: Using very sharp kitchen shears or a sharp knife, carefully snip along each side of the chicken’s backbone until it’s completely detached. Discard, or set aside for the next time you make chicken broth.
- Split the breast plate: With the chicken still facing breast side down, use your hands to gently stretch open the rib cage of the chicken, revealing its inner cavity. Locate the top of the chicken’s breast plate, directly behind the chicken breasts. Place the heel of a sharp chef’s knife in the center of the top of the breast plate. Use a rolling pin to carefully yet forcefully tap the spine of the knife, wedging the heel of the knife into the bone. Continue tapping until the bone cracks.
- Finish spatchcocking the chicken: Use your hands to stretch the inner cavity of the chicken as wide open as possible, then flip the chicken such that its breast side is facing up. Place your hands on the center of its breasts, on the breast bone. Use your body weight to apply pressure to the chest plate, cracking the bone all the way through such that the chicken lays flat – your chicken is spatchcocked & ready for roasting. Great job!!! (Note: If you have difficulty cracking the chest plate of the chicken, flip the chicken back over, running the tip of a sharp knife over the bone from within the open cavity – these score marks help ease up any resistance. Flip the bird back over & press down on it again.)
- Easy Spatchcock Chicken Recipes: With your chicken spatchcocked, it’s ready to roast, grill or smoke! Use your recipe of choice to season & cook. We have a number of wonderful spatchcock chicken recipes that you can check out:
- This Roasted Spatchcock Chicken recipe combines classic flavors of lemon, rosemary, sage, & thyme. Mix it all into a fantastic herb butter, then roast your spatchcock chicken atop potatoes for the perfect all-in-one chicken dinner.
- This Chili-Lime Grilled Whole Chicken is seasoned with a chili-lime wet rub & grilled to perfection with 2-zone grilling. The ultimate easy-yet-impressive summer dinner.
- This Grilled Tuscan Chicken is perfect for a summer dinner party, thanks to our go-to Tuscan Marinade, made with loads of lemon, fresh herbs, & chili flakes.
- 15-Minute Meal Prep: Prepping for your spatchcock chicken dinner ahead of time is always a great idea. Set your spatchcock chicken on a small baking sheet or in a large airtight container. Cover & store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It takes 15 minutes, tops, & at dinnertime, you can skip butchering & jump right into cooking – easy!
Keywords: how to spatchcock a chicken, spatchcock chicken, spatchcock chicken recipe, roast spatchcock chicken, easy, fast, butterflied, smoked, roasted, poultry
Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Eat Love Eat